Real Scary

David Kurnick in Bookforum:

The Ishiguro blurb (“The most exciting discovery I’ve made in fiction for some time”) might be designed to entice skittish readers of literary fiction into committing to six hundred pages of horror. Who better than the SF-dabbling Nobel laureate to assure us that we can indulge our genre pleasures and remain serious people? Mariana Enriquez’s Our Share of Night, her first novel to be translated into English, comes well weighted with prestige-ballast: the novel won the 2019 Herralde Prize awarded by the Spanish publishing house Anagrama, and her second story collection, The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, was shortlisted for last year’s Booker. But Our Share of Night makes Ishiguro’s genre-gestures look hesitant and polite by comparison. Enriquez is unabashed about the camp-gothic trappings of her chosen genre, the kitschy nomenclature and the stomach-churning ceremonies and the bruised eroticism. You’ll get your meditation on Argentine history here, but you’ll also get the mysterious entity called the Darkness and the aristocratic Order that serves it—along with houses that eat little girls, sacred texts stored in a secret London library, mutilated infants held in underground dungeons, and an impossibly sexy “medium,” broken and dangerous as a young Brando. The novel’s most audacious gambit isn’t that it makes all this emotionally and intellectually powerful (it does), but that it never surrenders its trashy allure in doing so.

Enriquez takes her time disclosing the extent of her world’s departures from our own. The novel opens on a road trip in January 1981 from Buenos Aires to the northeastern province of Misiones, wedged between Paraguay and Brazil. Juan Peterson is driving his ten-year-old son Gaspar to the country mansion of his obscenely wealthy in-laws, the Reyes Bradfords. Something is atmospherically off-kilter in these early pages, but there are plenty of real-world explanations: the summer humidity is stifling; the military dictatorship that has controlled the country since 1974 is keeping “a brutal watch over the highways”; most important is the absence from the car of Rosario, Juan’s wife and Gaspar’s mother, killed a few months prior in a bus accident in the capital. It’s only when Gaspar calmly indicates that he can see a strange woman in their hotel room that the supernatural intrudes.

More here.